On Eve of Seaway Opening, Coalition Calls for Action to Stop Invasive Species

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 20)—As the St. Lawrence Seaway opens, a coalition is urging the federal government to pass comprehensive legislation to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species such as the zebra mussel by addressing the No. 1 pathway non-native organisms enter the lakes–the discharge of ballast water from ocean-going vessels.“Every shipping season brings the same story: The seaway opens, the invasion continues, the damage mounts,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeff Skelding, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition. “It’s time to change that. We have solutions.

It’s time to use them. If we wait, the problems get worse, and the solutions more costly. It’s time to take care of business by passing comprehensive federal legislation.”

The coalition supports passage of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (S. 725), a bill introduced March 1 by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The bill takes a comprehensive approach to preventing and controlling aquatic invasive species from vectors including ballast water, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and importation and trade.

“Asian carp, zebra mussels, round goby and other aquatic invasive species are a serious threat to the long-term health of the Great Lakes,” said Sen. Levin. “It is critical that we act now to implement the comprehensive approach of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act and help keep our lakes safe from invaders.”

“While I am proud of the actions that many states are taking to protect against invasive species, all too often their efforts have not been enough,” said Sen. Collins. “Protecting the integrity of our lakes, streams, and coastlines from invading species cannot be accomplished by individual states alone. We need a uniform, nationwide approach to deal effectively with invasive species. The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2007 will help states throughout the nation detect, prevent and respond to aquatic invasive species.”

This year marks the fourth time in as many years that Congress has introduced legislation to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species, yet no bill has come to the floor for a vote.

“We look forward to working with our Democratic and Republican allies in Congress to pass legislation this year,” said the National Parks Conservation Association’s Chad Lord, legislative director of the Healing Our Waters Coalition. “Waiting will only exacerbate the problem and cost citizens more money. This is the year to deliver results for the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes and their national parks for their jobs, health and quality of life.”

Complementary bills have not yet been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, though a strong commitment has been made by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) to produce a bill in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, over which he has jurisdiction.

Oberstar says the problem has been studied and it is time to act. “We know that we have to prevent future zebra mussel type invasions,” said Oberstar. “I’m at an end of patience with studies. We need an action plan preventing against the next generation of invasive species that’s going to further devastate our Great Lakes waters.”

“We need to change our strategy in dealing with aquatic invasive species,” Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) said. “It is time for Congress to realize that this threat continues to grow and will not go away unless we act. Invasive species don’t respect political boundaries or timelines. If we pass strong legislation that prevents invasive species from entering our waters, we can avoid spending billions of dollars trying to control and manage them once they are here.”

The call for action comes on the heels of two recent invasions, including a non-native virus that has led to fish kills and the late 2006 discovery of the bloody red mysid, native to Eastern Europe.

At least 183 non-native species have been identified in the Great Lakes, and one new species is discovered in the lakes every 28 weeks from a variety of vectors. The No. 1 pathway for non-native aquatic species to enter the Great Lakes is through ballast discharge from oceangoing vessels originating in foreign ports.

Passage of comprehensive national aquatic invasive species legislation is a core component of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, a restoration plan released in 2005 as part of a historic planning process established by President Bush in 2004.

The recently introduced National Aquatic Invasive Species Act:

  • Addresses prevention, research, outreach and education, early detection, rapid response, control, and management of invasive species in the Great Lakes and nationally.
  • Addresses ballast water discharge by requiring all ocean-going vessels in the Great Lakes to meet an environmentally protective standard by 2012.
  • Requires that ocean-going vessels officially defined as having “no ballast on board” implement practices that prevent new infestations of non-native species.
  • Applies best-performing ballast water management practices and rapid response plans to vessels that operate in the Great Lakes to control the spread of invaders already introduced.
  • Establishes for the first time a federal screening process for organisms proposed for importation and trade.
  • Prevents the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes by authorizing the last line of defense against the fish—an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.“Great Lakes citizens have had it with subsidizing the bills that invasive species are leaving on our doorstep,” said Joel Brammeier, associate director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Delivering results for the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their jobs, health and quality of life is something every member of Congress can – and should – support in 2007.”

The Healthy Lakes, Healthy Lives Campaign is directed by the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition. The coalition consists of more than 90 zoos, aquariums, museums, and hunting, fishing, and environmental organizations representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Formed in 2005 with support from the Wege Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and others, the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition reflects a growing public awareness about the urgent need to restore the Great Lakes.

For more information, visit: healthylakes.org.

Contact:

Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation—(734) 769-3351 x 23; lubetkin@nwf.org
Andrea Keller, National Parks Conservation Association—(202) 454-3332; akeller@npca.org
Joel Brammeier, Alliance for the Great Lakes—(312) 939-0838; jbrammeier@greatlakes.org

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